For electrification and modal transfer – developing rail as other modes catch up: Railfuture and HADRAG respond to TfN’s decarbonisation report

HADRAG responded to Transport for the North’s decarbonisation strategy at the end of August. We supported the submission made by Railfuture’s four north of England branches, adding weight to proposals benefiting the Calder Valley line:

  • Electrification as proposed by the 2015 task force report, which gave the full Calder Valley line top ranking
  • Development of poorly served routes centred on the Elland/Brighouse corridor, Bradford/Calderdale-Huddersfield, upper Calderdale-Leeds, Wakefield and York. Rail can succeed as low-carbon mode of transport whilst other modes are still planning their catch-up.

Here is HADRAG’s submission, with links to the longer Railfuture document:

HADRAG supports the ambitions of Transport for the North to decarbonise transport across the North.

We agree with the submission made by the northern branches of Railfuture which can also be found on the Railfuture website at www.railfuture.org.uk/display2779 (freeform response – also appended to this report) and www.railfuture.org.uk/display2780 (questionnaire response).

HADRAG is a founding group of the Electric Railway Charter (www.electriccharter.wordpress.com). We support a rolling programme of electrification across the North of England as envisaged by the Northern Sparks task force (NETF) report (spring 2015). Northern Sparks gave top ranking on the basis of business, economic and environmental criteria to electrification of the full Calder Valley line from Leeds via both Bradford and Brighouse to Manchester, East Lancashire and Preston. Thus described, the CV Line was placed first in list of a dozen schemes for an initial 5-year programme (the five years being 2019-2024). We still await a government go-ahead for any kind of rolling programme. Indeed we still await a definite go ahead for electrification of the Huddersfield line under the TransPennine Route Upgrade, and for the Midland main line from Market Harborough to Sheffield. These two schemes were baseline assumptions of NETF.

The recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS – summer/autumn 2020) by Network Rail generally reinforces the Northern Sparks recommendations. TDNS recommends that about 85% of unelectrified railways across Great Britain should be overhead electrified. Overhead electrification offers at least about 80% energy efficiency (source to wheel) compared with about 70% for battery-electric trains and 34% or less for hydrogen. 34% efficiency means 66% of original energy wasted. All energy transfers involve wastage. Overhead line electrification wastes least because fewer intermediate transfers or conversions are involved. Given the low energy storage density of batteries and hydrogen it is no surprise that TDNS recommends batteries for only 5% and batteries only 9% of unelectrified routes. (For references see Railfuture submission below.)

Northern Sparks and TDNS surely provide the basis of a rolling programme in the North.

Modal shift and the Calder Valley Line

Rail is already low-carbon compared with other modes, and overhead electrification will increase this advantage. Whilst the road, air and marine transport are still working on solutions to decarbonisation at least a modest start can be made by encouraging modal transfer to rail. Whilst our Calder Valley Line is waiting for electrification there are opportunities for decarbonisation by services particularly by increasing frequency over at present underused route through Brighouse (with a new station expected at Elland in the next two years).

The Railfuture submission (appended) lists some possibilities for the CV Line focussed on the Brighouse and Elland route. Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield network:

From Preston/East Lancs/Calderdale via Brighouse, and from Manchester via Stalybridge to Huddersfield, Wakefield, Castleford and York; including links via routes crossing at Elland/Brighouse between Bradford, Calderdale, Huddersfield and Leeds, where greater frequency is required;

  • New/increased services could include some of the following –
  • New service Preston-Wakefield-Castleford-York (additional to existing Blackpool-Bradford-York)
  • Huddersfield-Castleford service extended to Pontefract/Knottingley
  • Manchester-Stalybridge-Hud service extended to Wakefield and York
  • Increased frequency upper Calderdale-Brighouse-Leeds/Wakefield connecting into increased frequency Bradford-Huddersfield at Elland/Brighouse
  • New service upper Calderdale-Huddersfield.

The sub-paragraph in bold suggests a “taktfahrplan” approach with half-hourly west-east services connecting into half-hourly north-south services at Elland/Brighouse. Other solutions are possible. We would also like to see services developed along the Preston-Wakefield-York corridor opening new opportunities for rail for to offer low-carbon alternatives, for example for a direct from Calderdale to Wakefield, Castleford and York avoiding Leeds. We refer to the Railfuture submission attached for further points.